MAY 29, 2010: Taste: Food Wine Life Grand Tasting
at Disney's California Adventure
I can't remember the last time I've been to Disneyland and have never been to California Adventure. While the idea of returning to the Happiest Place on Earth holds no appeal for me anymore, I've been intrigued about California Adventure – mainly because I know they were dedicated to exploring and celebrating all things California, including wine. I've heard about their annual spring Food and Wine Festival over the years, but there are enough tasting events in Los Angeles to keep me interested and that don't require a 40-mile drive. However, this year through the generousity of some old friends, I got the chance to attend the 40-day festival's Grand Tasting event. After looking at the schedule of the events I missed (Disney Website) I have to admit I'm a little bummed I don't live closer. The daily festival events seemed to be a bit more focused on food than wine, but over the course of the 5 weeks they had some heavy hitters from both worlds, including Guy Fieri, Andrea Robinson, Joey Tensley, Cat Cora, Art Smith, Kerry Simon and wine seminars by Buena Vista, Francis Ford Coppola, Talbott Vineyards, BR Cohn, Martinelli Vineyards, Schweiger Vineyards, Trefethen Winery, Flora Springs, Hartford Winery, Williams-Seylem and Ridge Vineyards and many more. The seminars are only $1 to attend, unfortunately you have to pay park admission of $72 to gain accesss, which is a bit steep. I guess that's where Annual Passes come in handy.
Thankfully, this time, I was just going along for the ride. The TASTE event is a culmination of all the festival had to offer featuring all the California Adventure restaurants best dishes and wines from the wineries that participated in the daily seminars. The ticket cost is $135 but you're not required to pay park admission to attend. There were 13 food and wine stations along the outside of the room, some seating in the middle of the room and high-top tables and long bars for those in the back of the line who failed to score a seat. The room was pretty packed, but they limit the number of attendees to about 700, so once everyone was inside the crowd sort of evenly dispersed. You have three hours to hit all the stations which is plenty of time, even with a 5-10 minute wait per section, mostly because they were making the food fresh to go. Though they gave you a lanyard with all the food and chefs listed, there was no paperwork at all about which wines were available. This was a bit disappointing for me, since it became hard to keep track, even though I took pictures of the bottles. Though the wines were split out by region, it was a surprise each time you hit the front of the line as to what you'd find. As I stood in line and listened to various conversations, the crowd seemed to be more foodie than wino, so I guess that explains the lack of materials. Even a list of the wineries attending, if not the actual wines poured, would have been helpful. Since all had participated in the festival this would not have been hard.
All of the food was quite good, but my favorites were: Beef Bracciole & Chicory Fava Bean Puree by Martha Sigala, Cafe Orleans
Gazpacho with Avocado & Spicy Rock Shrimp by Greg Stillman, Naples Ristorante
Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Goat Cheese by Nick Weber, Catal Restaurant
Goat Cheese with Fresh Apricot Cone by Andrew Sutton, Napa Rose
Steak and Mushroom Rueben Slider by guest chef Jamie Gwen.
Petite Lamb Chop by Sean Layne, Big Thunder Ranch BBQ
What I like about the wine selection was its' diversity, even in the limited number of selections overall. My favs of the night were:
2008 Gundlerloch Diva Riesling Spatlese
2006 J. Moreau & Fils Vouvray Demi-Sec
2008 Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Graff Family Vineyards Chalone Mourvedre
2005 Schweiger Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
So I guess the big question is: Would I pay to go next year? While the whole event was well-executed (the staff is to be commended for quick and friendly plate clearing) with good entertainment (though a stitch too loud) and generous tastes to fill your very high-end Riedel glass (that you got to keep), I'm still not sure it's quite worth the price. I had a great time, don't get me wrong. Disney certainly knows how to put on a classy event and this one was no exception; however, I like to be able to engage with the chef/winemakers when I go tasting events and that is just not possible here. For me, the money would be better spent on a great wine dinner, where you can really concentrate on the flavors and enjoy the experience. Of course, if you don't mind crowds or eating standing up, then this event certainly delivers some delicious food and interesting wines to go with it.